Rising to the Occasion: The Fury’s Vikings U11 Mixed Team
On an unusually mild Canberra morning, at the Willows Field at ANU, the Tuggeranong Vikings ‘Fury’s’ Under 11 mixed team gathered for their match against an unbeaten, more favoured side. The team of ten were roughly split 50/50 girls and boys, with experienced Hookin2Hockey campaigners, with up to four years of super junior hockey under their belt, interspersed with new players who had only very recently picked up a hockey stick. All were super keen, excited, and bubbling with anticipation for the challenge ahead.
The opposition had talent all over the pitch with a particularly strong goalkeeper who had a standout performance throughout the June Long Weekend Regional Tournament. But the Fury’s had also fielded four Regional Representatives of their own and showed no fear at taking on the favoured foe. All they really wanted to do was play. And play they did!
The game commenced with a very quick goal for the opposition. This seemed to shock the Fury’s into action and from that point they didn’t look back. For seven rounds the team had grown incrementally in experience, talent and trust in their teammates. But in this round eight game the penny dropped, and the developed skills, practised drills and errors learned from in previous games all came together; to a player they brought their very best to the game, right across the pitch.
The Fury’s tackled well and backed each other up in defence perfectly. Like a Greek Phalanx, every time a Fury was beaten in a tackle, another was poised waiting for the perfect moment to pounce on the distracted striker, while the first defender chased back to apply yet another tackle. Of particular note, in a Best on Ground performance, the Fury’s fullback made a dozen goal saving tackles, playing the best game of his life (so far!), stifling the opposition attack time and time again.
In their own forward half the Fury’s played some inspired offence. They used space to great effect, in both passing and running. Their off-the-ball work rate was the envy of many of the adult hockey players amongst the parent group. Their hockey acumen in consistently passing early, running to space and receiving the ball back in scoring positions was extraordinary for an Under 11s squad.
They used angles, took risks, used the available space and demonstrated the ability and willingness to take on defenders and run the ball when opportunities presented.
Despite peppering the goalkeeper, his experience and skill shone through, and the Fury strikers were unable to find a gap. But this frustration (certainly for the coach and parents) was not visible on the face of the Fury players. They just wanted to play. And play they did.
As a spectator that hadn’t seen the initial seven rounds of Under 11s hockey, the level of development from graduation from Hookin2Hockey to round eight of Under 11s was as inspiring as it was impressive. The cementing of foundation skills, the development of secondary and in some cases tertiary skills (tomahawks not allowed in this grade) was fantastic to see. There was agile footwork, aligning with body positioning and enabling sound stick work in a variety of movements, on and off the ball. Some players were even delivering accurate no-look passes which is an indicator of their emerging subconscious understanding of structures and where their teammates are, and where they should be.
The game and the team perfectly exemplified formalised junior sport. Maximised participation, a strong focus on enjoyment, development, mateship and team spirit. Junior sport, especially at the very junior level, should never be tainted with the win at all costs, playing for sheep stations attitude that so often pervades the senior grades. Players putting their teammates and their team first, and coaches, supported by parents, putting the enjoyment, safety and development of players above score sheets and goal tallies. This is the bedrock of junior sport and the foundation from which senior and elite athletes will spring.
This is the approach taken by the Viking Fury’s right from round one. Inspired by each other, their coach and their parents, the Fury’s have found a genuine love of the game, which will set them up well for the future in the older junior grades, senior hockey and in life.
The Fury’s coach has that broad view. As an Army Major he values and invests in the strength of the group. Their sense of honour and integrity in their approach to the game and way they play is a key goal, along with mutual trust and inclusion across the player and coaching group. He sees the players as individuals within a team, looking to identify and nurture leadership potential, where the player may not necessarily see this potential in themselves. He brings an infectious enthusiasm for the team and the sport, a positive energy that is both inspirational and aspirational for the players and those around them. His feedback loop is seeing the kids enjoy themselves each week and develop.
He describes his personal measure of effectiveness (you just can’t take the military terminology out of the soldier!) not as a scoreline, or a win-loss ratio or the goal scoring leaderboard, but as the degree to which his players develop, enjoy their sport, love being part of the team, and most importantly, how many kids come back to play next year and how many friends they bring.
It’s people like him who make retention happen. Ultimately, junior sport is about encouraging players to be the best version of themselves they can be, without applying needless pressure at too young an age. Do this, and the kids will inspire you with their performance, not just on the pitch, but in so many ways that sport can foster. Inspired young hockey players, with a sense of team spirit and a love of sport, grow into inspired young adults of whom we can all be proud.
This is the greatest investment in future generations we can possibly make. And it’s the least we can do for them.
By Dani Sweetman and Don Rosser